Spurred by complaints from nearby residents, Harahan Mayor Tina Miceli and the City Council are taking a closer look at a sand and gravel pit operation on the batture just over the levee near Powerline Drive.
Wood Materials Inc. has run its supply business there for decades, but residents say the sand kicked up by the wind and vibrations from trucks driving over the levee have gotten worse in recent years.
They also fear activity could soon increase with the construction of a nearly $1 billion terminal at Louis Armstrong International Airport, and they have implored the city to take action.
“I’ve got a lotta, lotta sand,” said Paulette Zeringue, who has lived on Cris Laur Avenue near Riverside Drive for about 15 years.
She said there has always been commercial activity on the other side of the levee, but the dust, noise and vibrations have gotten worse in the past five years or so.
“Every time the wind blows, sand blows all the way down to Ravan Avenue,” said Evelyn Riehm, who has collected about 80 signatures with her husband, John, calling for the city to take action.
Riehm and other residents, who have complained at several council meetings, say they can’t understand why the company cannot access the sand and gravel pits from the river side of the property and why it can’t at least plant more trees to catch some of the sand that routinely covers their cars, homes and yards.
They say the dust makes it difficult to enjoy the trail atop the levee, and cyclists get sand in the gears of their bikes.
Riehm said there already is a buffer of trees farther down Riverside Drive from Bailey Street to Ravan Avenue that could be extended downriver.
“If they could give us the same look that they have from Bailey to Ravan, we won’t hear the vibrations and we won’t hear the noise, and the trees will block the sand,” she said. “We feel like what we’re asking is so needed and so possible. Just be a good neighbor.”
Riehm said Wood Materials also has started mulching on the property, which she said has led to a proliferation of flies.
Company owner Pearce Wood declined to comment on the complaints.
Zeringue said the speed limit on Riverside, which becomes River Road at Powerline, is 25 mph for a reason. But the limit is undermined by the fact the trucks drive much faster as soon as they’re across the levee, she said.
She said it doesn’t make sense that something that clearly wouldn’t be allowed in a residential neighborhood is permitted so close to one just because it’s on the batture.
“I don’t want any harm to any of these people, but our concern is how they use this thing,” she said. “If there’s regulation on this side of the levee, there should be regulation on the other side of the levee.”
The sand pits are permitted by the city’s zoning code, but Miceli said she has been meeting with officials from Jefferson Parish, the state Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, among others, to try to figure out precisely what kinds of activities are allowed and whether the existing regulations need to be made tighter.
Miceli met with the council in executive session last month about the company’s operations, though no lawsuit has been filed. Miceli would not provide any specifics, saying only that “it is now a legal issue between Wood Materials and the city.”
Any help might be too little too late for Riehm, who said she found out about the zoning ordinance only after meeting with council members and is upset at the mayor for not mentioning it in the meetings they’ve had.
The way Riehm sees it, Miceli had the power to do something ever since the neighbors began raising the issue last year.
Miceli said the zoning ordinance is publicly available and noted that the city was without a city attorney in recent months, making it impossible to move forward with changing the law.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.